The White Working Class Vote

With all the talk of Obama’s alleged problems with the white working voters this year, John Harwood does an excellent job of placing this issue in perspective by quoting Ruy Teixeira, author of America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.

Mr. Obama, who leads the delegate count, “is clocking in where he needs to be” with white, working-class voters to win the White House in November, Mr. Teixeira said.

Through most of the primaries, the constituencies supporting either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama have remained remarkably stable. While Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has energized young, African-American and affluent voters, his rival from New York has dominated among women, Hispanics, blue-collar whites and older voters.

Among white, working-class voters — most commonly identified as those without a college degree — Mrs. Clinton has won by 2 to 1 or better in states like Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama has fared better among less culturally conservative working-class whites in states like Oregon, where the environment is a central issue for voters.

While Teizeira and this article are primarily concerned with voting trends, ideology is also important here. Yes, Hillary Clinton does do better among the culturally conservative working-class voters than her more liberal opponent, but this comes as a cost. I see no benefit in backing a Democratic candidate who is even more conservative than the presumptive Republican candidate on some issues.

Clinton has increasingly adopted both the views and tactics of her new friends in the vast right wing conspiracy. Clinton backed the Iraq war, despite her attempts to hide this fact. She also differs significantly from Obama on the drug war, including on sentencing reform and needle-exchange programs. Clinton has stronger ties to the religious right and those who deny separation of church and state than the presumptive Republican candidate. Her conservative ties have influenced her support for legislation to ban flag burning and support censorship of video games. Clinton also opposed the banning of cluster bombs. She backs the same types of abuses of executive power practiced by George Bush while I suspect that even John McCain would do a better job of respecting the role of Congress.

Returning from ideology to electoral trends, Clinton has distorted primary returns to exaggerate her electability:

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she is best positioned to win the “hard-working Americans, white Americans” has become the linchpin of her argument that she is more electable than Mr. Obama.

But Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.

And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base.

Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.

In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Mr. Obama trailing by 12 percentage points with working-class whites; a poll by Quinnipiac University, showed him trailing by seven points. In each survey, Mr. Obama led over all by seven points.

While Clinton had done better than Obama in attracting the white working class vote in the primaries, many of these voters will still vote for Obama in a general election. While Clinton’s support is limited to her core Democratic voters, Obama can do far better by bringing in voters who do not usually vote Democratic:

But Mr. Ayres concedes that resistance need not be fatal to Mr. Obama’s candidacy. “The question is whether they’ll be counterbalanced by the new voters and young voters he brings in,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s advisers, and some unaffiliated strategists, acknowledge that he would lose some working-class votes that Mrs. Clinton might receive should she somehow win over enough superdelegates to capture the nomination. But they insist the answer to Mr. Ayres is yes, Mr. Obama would attract other voters to offset those losses.

In two states where Mrs. Clinton swamped Mr. Obama among working-class white voters, some recent surveys have shown him leading Mr. McCain. Is working-class resistance in Ohio and Pennsylvania going to be enough to prevent Mr. Obama from winning, asks Mark Mellman, an adviser to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and other Democratic politicians. “I think the answer is, not.”

Mr. Teixeira argues that Mr. Obama’s standing with working-class whites may be artificially low in the wake of his skirmishing with Mrs. Clinton and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“Yes, he has a problem,” Mr. Teixeira said. “But it’s a solvable problem.”

While this analysis concentrates on one group, white working-class voters, it ignores another important swing group, the more affluent, educated voters. I’ve previously discussed a post from Norm Scheiber which explains that currently, “There are really two broad swing groups: one working-class, the other affluent.” Just recently I noted that Marc Ambinder has looked at such an analysis and concluded that Obama can win the election due to the number of swing voters backing him (in his case, the affluent, more educated group). By 2006 many such swing voters, such as the Starbucks Republicans, rejected the GOP due to their turn to the right on social issues and support for the Iraq war. Obama is pulling in even more of these voters. In contrast, many affluent, educated voters will see no reason to support either the economically populist or socially conservative views of Hillary Clinton and will either vote for John McCain or stay home.

The tendency of the Clinton camp to write off those who disagree with their conservative viewpoints as “elitists” whose views do not matter acts to further widen this divide and limit Clinton’s potential support. The objection to Clinton’s views and conduct in this race cannot simply be ignored as meaningless fake scandals as some Clinton apologists like Paul Krugman claim.

While Clinton clings to the politics of polarization, Obama is running a far more inclusive campaign. Although his strongest support in the primaries comes from the more affluent Democratic voters, Obama’s economic positions are actually far more sounder and beneficial to the working class voters than Clinton’s polices which even ignore the views of economists as elitist. I support Obama over Clinton primarily due to their considerable differences on social issues, foreign policy, and government reform, and would do so even if he was less electable, but fortunately Obama is also the more electable of the two.

Clinton Camp Blames Obama For Kennedy Flap

With Saturday Night Live off for the summer I regretted not being able to see Amy Poehler parody Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe as she parodied her electability arguments last week. There’s no doubt that Clinton’s comments on the assassination of Robert Kennedy would have been her major target. Fortunately for those of us who expect humor over the weekend, the Clinton campaign has now become fully self-parodying. In a statement which ranks high among so many absurd arguments coming from the Clinton camp, Terry McAuliffe has actually blamed Barack Obama for this incident. Once again they show why we do not want this freak show back in the White House.

Libertarian Party Provides McCain With Strong Conservative Opposition

As I reported yesterday Bob Barr overcame considerable opposition by some Libertarian Party members to the non-libertarian candidates running to win the nomination on the sixth ballot. Barr spent much of the convention apologizing for his past votes such as for the Patriot Act. He won the nomination on the sixth ballot after Wayne Allyn Root threw his support to Barr, receiving the vice presidential nomination in return.

By going with the conservatives, as opposed to second place Mary Ruwart, the Barr/Root ticket will have far more impact on the general election than virtually any other likely outcome and does have the potential to draw votes away from John McCain in conservative states. In contrast, Ruwart would receive much less conservative support and her nomination would have led some conservative libertarians to bolt the party and vote Republican.

There is a common misconception among those who have not followed the libertarian movement that the Libertarian Party and supporters of libertarianism are equivalent. The Libertarian Party was actually formed with considerable opposition from libertarians, many of whom feared that entering politics would make the Libertarian Party increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream politicians. The party has often been more conservative than consistently libertarian, with influence in the party varying over the years.

Tim Lee presents the view of many libertarians in writing yesterday:

Today the Libertarian Party nominated Bob Barr as its presidential standard-bearer for 2008. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the Libertarian Party. As a small-L libertarian, I typically find the major party options to be wretched, and this year’s options are especially bad. So it will be nice to have someone on the ticket who I can be reasonably sure will mostly take positions I generally agree with.

Unfortunately, the LP has a knack for picking candidates who are not just uninspiring, but often acutely embarrassing. The 2004 candidate, Michael Badnarik, was a low point. As I wrote at the time, despite billing himself as a “constitutional scholar,” he was completely clueless about American government. His speeches and interviews were chock full of assertions that could have been corrected with 30 seconds of fact-checking, and his overall message was that of a paranoid, government-hating crank.

And because presidential elections are virtually the only time a lot of people pay attention to politics, a lot of people wind up associating libertarianism, the ideology, with whomever the LP chooses to nominate every four years. And since the LP’s candidates are often clueless, politically tone-deaf, or otherwise unappealing, small-L libertarians get stuck trying to explain that, no, most libertarians aren’t for legalizing child pornography, and no, not all of us have turned our skin blue by drinking a “homemade antibiotic laced with silver.”

Bob Barr isn’t in the same category. He understands the basics of public policy and appears able to get through an interview without embarrassing himself. However, he seems to have a whole different category of baggage: questions about whether he’s actually a libertarian. During his tenure in Congress, Barr showed few libertarian tendencies, voting for the Defense of Marriage Act, opposing medical marijuana, and signing on to the Patriot Act. I saw him speak here in Missouri last year and he gave a pretty convincing Road to Damascus speech, but libertarians are justifiably suspicious.

Personally, I’m doubly wary of supporting the guy after the Ron Paul fiasco. Like Will Wilkinson, I gave money to Paul in 2007, before I learned of his continuing association with the bigots who sent out racist newsletters under Paul’s name. In retrospect, Paul’s anti-immigration rhetoric and his tendency toward conspiracy theories (“Wall Street bankers” are a staple villain in his stump speeches) should have been red flags that temperamentally, Paul was more a conservative nationalist than a libertarian even if he happened to have reached libertarian conclusions on a lot of policy issues.

The issue section of Barr’s campaign website makes me nervous that we’re in for a repeat of that fiasco. It’s incredibly thin—a dozen or so bullet points in total—and one of the four categories is “secure our borders,” which suggests Barr may harbor the same kind of borderline xenophobia that has infected both the Paul campaign and much of the modern conservative movement. That’s not the impression I want voters to get of libertarianism.

Ultimately, I wish the LP would just go away.

Barr’s history as a conservative Republican are already well known. His running mate, Wayne Allyn Root, does appear media savvy and I suspect he will help pull in conservative libertarian votes. Root’s web site is full of pictures of conservatives such as George Bush, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and his “hero,” Ronald Reagan. As with far too many libertarians, while it appears Root personally supports abortion rights he calls it a State’s Rights issue. Such attitudes of conservative libertarians on State’s Rights have been a major reason why I do not consider them consistent defenders of individual liberty. Rights, if they are to mean anything, originate with the individual, not the state. Federalism, while often a major aspect of conservatism, is inconsistent with libertarianism as infringements upon individual liberty by state governments is no more acceptable than when done by the federal government. At times the federal government has even been instrumental in fighting infringements upon liberty emanating from the states.

In the past Libertarian Party candidates have had difficulty exceeding one percent of the vote. As a consequence of the publicity from the Ron Paul campaign and having a conservative ticket which can compete with John McCain for the support of conservative Republicans, they might do far better. Having a strong conservative opponent on the ballot might also prevent John McCain from moving as far towards the center as he would like during a general election campaign.

The Fall of Polarization

George Packer has a must-read article in The New Yorker on The Fall of Conservatism which shows how Republicans have used polarization as a political tool. Packer draws some parallels to this election and I would like to add some additional ones. Long before Hillary Clinton’s supporters turned into clones of the far right and began denouncing their political opponents as “elitists,” Richard Nixon used such divisiveness as for political gain:

Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare.

Ronald Reagan turned out to be “more ideological in his rhetoric than in his governance.” While certainly drawing criticism from the left, the Reagan years were not as polarizing as the Nixon years before or the Gingrich and Bush years which followed. The peak of divisiveness came under George Bush:

The phrase that signalled Bush’s approach was “compassionate conservatism,” but it never amounted to a policy program. Within hours of the Supreme Court decision that ended the disputed Florida recount, Dick Cheney met with a group of moderate Republican senators, including Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island. According to Chafee’s new book, “Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President” (Thomas Dunne), the Vice-President-elect gave the new order of battle: “We would seek confrontation on every front. . . . The new Administration would divide Americans into red and blue, and divide nations into those who stand with us or against us.” Cheney’s combative instincts and belief in an unfettered and secretive executive proved far more influential at the White House than Bush’s campaign promise to be “a uniter, not a divider.” Cheney behaved as if, notwithstanding the loss of the popular vote, conservative Republican domination could continue by sheer force of will. On domestic policy, the Administration made tax cuts and privatization its highest priority; and its conduct of the war on terror broke with sixty years of relatively bipartisan and multilateralist foreign policy.

The Administration’s political operatives were moving in the same direction. The Republican strategist Matthew Dowd studied the 2000 results and concluded that the proportion of swing voters in America had declined from twenty-two to seven per cent over the previous two decades, which meant that mobilizing the Party’s base would be more important in 2004 than attracting independents. The strategist Karl Rove’s polarizing political tactics (which brought a new level of demographic sophistication to the old formula) buried any hope of a centrist Presidency before Bush’s first term was half finished.

Fortunately the failures of the Bush years brought about an end to the dominance of conservatism. The center reasserted itself as many voters moved from the Republicans to the Democrats by the time of the 2006 Congressional elections. Karl Rove’s strategy of mobilizing the extremes failed when there were too few left who embraced the extremism of the Republican Party:

Ed Rollins said, “Rove knew his voters, he stuck to the message with consistency, he drove that base hard—and there’s nothing left of it. Today, if you’re not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great.” As long as Bush and his party kept winning elections, however slim the margins, Rove’s declared ambition to create a “permanent majority” seemed like the vision of a tactical genius. But it was built on two illusions: that the conservative era would stretch on indefinitely, and that politics matters more than governing. The first illusion defied history; the second was blown up in Iraq and drowned in New Orleans.

Barack Obama got it right in realizing that this year’s election was about change. Both parties rejected candidates who could only appeal to their base in favor of candidates such as John McCain and Barack Obama who appealed to independents and were less identified with the type of polarizing politics which Hillary Clinton embraced during the wrong election year:

Political tactics have a way of outliving their ability to respond to the felt needs and aspirations of the electorate: Democrats continued to accuse Republicans of being like Herbert Hoover well into the nineteen-seventies; Republicans will no doubt accuse Democrats of being out of touch with real Americans long after George W. Bush retires to Crawford, Texas. But the 2006 and 2008 elections are the hinge on which America is entering a new political era.

This will be true whether or not John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, wins in November. He and his likely Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, “both embody a post-polarized, or anti-polarized, style of politics,” the Times columnist David Brooks told me. “McCain, crucially, missed the sixties, and in some ways he’s a pre-sixties figure. He and Obama don’t resonate with the sixties at all.” The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces. “The fact that there was no conventional, establishment, old-style conservative candidate was not an accident,” Brooks said. “Mitt Romney pretended to be one for a while, but he wasn’t. Rudy Giuliani sort of pretended, but he wasn’t. McCain is certainly not. It’s not only a lack of political talent—there’s just no driving force, and it will soften up normal Republicans for change.”

Sci Fi Friday (Memorial Day Edition): Moffat To Run The Doctor; Terminator Changes the Future; Xavier Returns; And Great Moments for Nerds

It’s been a fairly slow week due to new episodes of many shows being postponed to avoid airing over Memorial Day weekend. I thought that at least the BBC would be showing Doctor Who but when I tried to download it I found that the scheduled episode, Silence in the Library, has also been postponed a week due to the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. This is a two-parter by Stephen Moffat, who has been responsible for some of the best episodes since the show returned.

The mild disappointment in having to wait a week for the Moffat two-parter was greatly alleviated by the news that Stephen Moffat will be taking over for Russell T. Davies as show runner for the series when Davies steps down for the 2010 season. Among the episodes written by Moffett are the Hugo-award winners The Girl in the Fireplace, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, and Nebula award winner (as well as nominee for this year’s Hugo award) Blink.

A plot summary has been released for Terminator:Salvation, the first movie in the next Terminator trilogy due for release May 22 2009:

The trilogy will be set after Judgment Day in the year 2018 and Christian Bale (who has signed for all three will take on the role of John Connor and will lead the human race to salvation. However, the future isn’t quite the one his mother trained him to save.

According to a Warner Brothers press release, the future is altered somewhat by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose final memory is of being on death row. Connor must keep an eye on the newcomer to establish if he has been sent from the future of the past.

At the same time, SkyNet prepares for a final assault that will end the war which forces Connor and Marcus to set off on a mission into the very heart of Skynet … and while there they will learn the terrible truth of SkyNet’s plan.

Those who left the last X-Men movie without watching the credits will have missed a late scene which provides hope that Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) remains alive. In a recent interview Stewart suggests that he will be returning to play Professor Xavier in X-Men 4.

Despite delaying the season finale of Lost until next week, ABC did have one weekly show which did involve jumping in time. The final moments of Desperate Housewives jumped ahead five years. This allows the show to get away from all the details of the last few years and have some changes in the characters. The biggest surprise was that Susan is living with a man other than Mike. Series creator Marc Cherry plans to leave after seven years and is even considering having the final season take place prior to the first aired season, before Mary Alice’s suicide.

How I Met Your Mother sort of jumps around in time between the present and the future. At the time this season’s finale was written it was not known if the show would be renewed and therefore the season finale ends with a scene which could have worked as the end of the series. Ted proposed to Stella (Sarah Chalke). Now that the show has been renewed the writers are free to either have Stella become Ted’s future wife or go in a different direction. With Scrubs coming to an end after a brief reprieve on ABC next year, Chalke will be free to become a more regular member of the cast. This could also mean that Stella’s receptionist, played by Britney Spears, might even return for a third appearance on the show. The finale also had Ted and Barney become bros again and there was the surprise revelation that Barney is interested in Robin.

Big Bang Theory has been the ultimate genre show of the past season. It is the only show where there are regular references to Romulans and many superheroes, and there was even an entire episode based around the time machine from War of the Worlds. The finale had Sheldon actually get a date with Penny, involving what might be the only prime time sitcom discussion ever of Schrödinger’s cat. While I doubt this romance will succeed, if it does it will be an even bigger victory for nerds since Jeremy (Joshua Malena) dated Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd) on Sports Night.